Therefore let us stop judging one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
I. WE ARE BOUND TO CONSIDER WHETHER OUR MANNER OF LIVING MAY NOT BE A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO OUR WEAK BROTHER. Having taken his readers to Christ's judgment-bar, he now asks them to examine themselves as to the influence of their mode of living. Is their freedom an offence to the weak? Then in the spirit of the Master, who gave his life to save the weak brother, they ought to surrender their freedom in deference to their scruples. Surely, if Jesus surrendered life for the weak brother, dying to redeem him, we ought to be ready to surrender meat or to surrender wine, if by so doing we can promote our weaker brother's welfare. Paul's position was a noble one. He knew that nothing was unclean of itself. He was none of your squeamish and scrupulous individuals. He could eat whatever was set before him; he could drink without the least excess. But he was ready to surrender both meat and wine for the weak brother's sake. And this is the very spirit of Christ. It is here that we base our temperance reformation; not on partaking being a sin, but being inexpedient in view of the weak brother's dangers.
II. DOUBT AS TO OUR DUTY SHOULD LEAD US TO ABSTAIN RATHER THAN INDULGE UNTIL WE ARE FULLY PERSUADED IN OUR OWN MINDS. The apostle wants every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind as to his course of action. One who is not, one who has no real faith in the course of action he is pursuing, is self condemned. Paul wishes to bring all such to the side of abstinence. Better abstain from meat or drink until such times as the path of duty is clear. Now, there are multitudes that act quite differently. They go on indulging themselves because they have not made up their minds. Now, this is moral indifference, and deserves reprobation.
III. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE GREAT MORAL LEVER WITH CONSCIENTIOUS SOULS. The apostle bases his whole plea for the endangered brother on the death of Christ for him. If Christ died for him, we should surely abstain for him. The death of Jesus is thus seen to be the great moral leverage for the world. Into the midst of things indifferent - for "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" - the self-sacrifice of our Master enters and compels conscientious souls to make some sacrifices for the sake of the brethren. Their edification becomes our aim, since the things are indifferent. We are not selfishly to assert our liberty, but self-denyingly we are to forego it, and bind ourselves to abstinence for whatever may be a brother's snare. If we could get such a deference to conscience practised in the Christian Church, society would very soon be regenerated. - R.M.E.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block..., in his brother's way.
I. IN ITS EXTENT; by a tender regard for the weak. Love —
1. Avoids offence.
2. Respects the convictions of others.
3. Denies itself.
II. IN ITS OBJECT; the furtherance of the kingdom of God.
1. By guarding against reproach.
2. By esteeming spiritual blessings above all others.
3. By promoting the work of God in others.
III. IN ITS RULE OF ACTION; faith.
1. Allows only what faith permits.
2. Avoids what faith does not endorse.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. ITS EXTENT. It —
1. Avoids offence.
2. Yields its conscious right for the sake of others.
3. Guards against the appearance of evil.
II. ITS ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. The kingdom of God suffers no disadvantage.
2. The weak brother is spared.
3. Private conviction and action are not sacrificed.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. WHAT THINGS ARE INDIFFERENT? Things —
1. Not forbidden.
2. That have in themselves no moral value.
3. That are clearly ascertained as such by an enlightened conscience.
II. WHEN DO THEY CEASE TO BE SO?
1. When they become a stumbling-block to others.
2. When they infringe the law of love.
3. When they oppose the work of Christ — when they occasion reproach.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)1. To preserve our personal liberty.
2. Not to violate the law of love.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
1. The first argument against this habit of uncharitable criticism is found in the truth that judgment belongs unto God, man being incompetent to render it. "Why dost thou judge thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God." The Omniscient alone is competent to judge.(1) We have not sufficient knowledge of the mind of the Master to determine the standard of action. "Who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor?" My conception is my working standard. It is the Master's commission to me. His word to my brother may be different. We may move in opposite directions and yet both fulfil the purpose of one controlling mind. Let me be assured that my feet are planted on the truth, but let me beware how I deny that my brother stands upon the truth because he does not occupy the same square-foot of ground on which I stand. No man has a monopoly of truth.(2) Again, we are incompetent to judge because we have not sufficient knowledge of the mind of the fellow-servant to determine the motive with which his action is performed. "Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth; for the Lord hath received him." Ofttimes man can look no farther than the outward appearance. God looketh upon the heart. He weighs the motive. Yet, spite of their incompetence, how free men are to usurp this Divine prerogative of judgment! Without God's knowledge, without God's love, they are quick to condemn. Before the bar of God each is responsible for himself alone.
2. In this solemn fact the apostle finds his second argument against the habit of judging others. "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God: let us not, therefore, judge one another any more." God does not hold us responsible for our brother's action; but He does hold us responsible for our influence upon him. The large demands of the Divine Judge upon the Christian in relation to his brethren, the apostle now urges especially upon the strong. There is reason in making the application especially to the strong, for in the matters under discussion they alone have freedom of choice. The strong Christian may eat or forbear eating. He may observe the day or not observe the day. The weak, however, in his present moral condition, has no choice. To those who have the larger opportunity the truth is the more broadly applied. But we are not obliged to think that the entire doctrine of the relation of the strong to the weak is set forth in this chapter. Were that the case it might seem as if Paul exalted the weak man's conscience to a place of tyranny. This surely is not his teaching. Truth is supreme. Opinion can never usurp her throne. If the weak brother's opinion is not the truth, his position is open to attack, and in the fuller presentation of the truth it may be necessary to oppose it. Paul himself was constantly leading in such opposition. Not only may the position of the weak brother be attacked; there are times when his scruples have to be disregarded. They may always be disregarded by you when they are opposed to a clear conviction of your duty. "Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind," and he need not, he must not desist out of regard for another's conscience. But if, after sufficient and candid study, he is fully assured that it is his duty to act, he must act, however his action may grieve his weaker brother. Even in matters which may be termed indifferent, the scruples of the weak brother may deserve to be set aside. Paul himself is our example. To him circumcision is nothing. At one time, on account of the Jews, he circumcises Timothy. At another time, when certain came to spy out the Christian's liberty and to bring him into bondage, he refuses to circumcise Titus. To these he "gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue" with the Christian disciples. There are, therefore, grounds on which the position of the weak brother may be attacked and his scruples disregarded. Nevertheless, there are grounds on which the position of the weaker brother must be respected, and his scruples receive special regard. "If because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer according to love." My act is not right simply because it does not harm me. As a child of God I must look upon the things of others. Christianity is satisfied with no standard but that of love. If this is true Christian doctrine the application in Christian ethics is clear. Justice is conformity to a standard; the Christian standard of life is the loving nature of God. I cannot therefore be just in the Christian sense unless I have love. Not what is good for me alone, nor what is good for my brother alone, but what is best for all, is to determine my action as a child of God. But the law of love is not satisfied with the attainment of anything less than the best good of all. There are many goods. They are of divers values. Freedom in eating and drinking is a good, but this is not the highest good which Christianity has to bestow. "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." The man who, in his zeal to establish the right to eat and drink, or the right to the free observance to a religious day, cares not how much he disturbs the peace, diminishes the joy, and undermines the righteousness of his brethren, really places the minor above the major, the subordinate above the supreme. In seeking a good, he misses the best good of the kingdom of God. But the strong may say in way of defence: Inasmuch as nothing is unclean of itself, may we not encourage other to imitate us in customs which are not opposed to any law of righteousness? No, says the apostle, not so long as the weak brother considers the thing unclean, or the act unrighteous. The end of Christianity is not right conduct, viewed apart from its motive, but virtuous character. Christianity has not attained its ideal when certain legal decrees have been obeyed, but only when certain moral experiences have been evoked. A merely legal system might be satisfied with formally correct conduct, but a vital religion demands a godly character. The teaching is sharp and decisive. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Whatsoever is done without consent of the moral nature, whatsoever is done contrary to what one believes to be right, is sin. This is striking doctrine. But does not our best ethics confirm this view? Do we not frequently see the unhappy results of submission to precepts which may be right, and yet are in opposition to the beliefs of the heart? In such submission the man surrenders his freedom, the birthright of moral manhood. He submits to the rule of his fellow-men. In opposition to the teaching of Christ, "Call no man master," he yields his sovereignty and lets others lay down the law of his life. Whatsoever is not of faith is of foreign dictation. It is the act of the bondman, not of the freeman. By such conformity the man benumbs his sense of obligation. It is this sense which binds him to the eternal truth. It is like the cable which holds the buoy to its moorings. The sense of obligation is the one assuring evidence that God has not forgotten us. This binds us to the eternal throne. Like the clue which Ariadne gave to Theseus, it leads through devious ways out into the world of light, of life, and of love; it leads to the throne, to the feet, to the heart of God. Lose this thread and the soul is left alone, "in wandering mazes lost." Cherish your own sense of obligation; beware how you injure another's. More fundamentally still, the performance of an act which is contrary to the soul's belief, to which the consent of the moral nature is not given, is essentially subordination of the impulse to live for others to the impulse to live for one's self. The teachings of this chapter become intelligible in proportion as we come to understand the end which Christianity seeks to attain. Christianity aims not simply to cause our actions to conform to a certain legal standard, but rather to make us partake of the nature and thus of the blessed experiences of the ever-blessed God.
(T. D. Anderson.)
(E. N. Packard.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(Sword and Trowel.)
I. THE GROUND ON WHICH HE PUTS MEN IS THE GROUND OF THEIR SACREDNESS.
1. Christians are tempted to judge men by standards that are not the highest nor the most Christian.(1) We are tempted to put value upon men according to their social relationships. A man may be very low in the social scale, and we may be accustomed in measuring him to call him a brute, and worthless, but the man has some other value besides that which consists in his relationship to society.(2) Nay, a man's economic value may be nil. There are many who do not produce as much as they eat. They are sick or shiftless, and die useless paupers. And we are apt to speak of them with contempt as being the "dregs of society."
2. And yet, low as they are, their value may be beyond count.(1) For every man is God's creature in a sense that none of the inferior animals are. He is made after the image of God.(2) More than this, every man is made sacred by what has been done for him. In the old days the colonists were forbidden to manufacture anything for themselves. The privilege of furnishing these things to them was reserved to the Crown. Not only that, but the very timber of the country was sorted out, and wherever a valiant pine or a noble oak, fit for the masts or for the ribs of ships was found, the Broad Arrow was stamped on it. The tree was in no respect different, but when people saw the Broad Arrow they said, "That is the king's." Now it is not an arrow, it is a cross that is stamped upon every living soul. For every human being Christ died; and this is made to he the sign and token of the value that is in every man (ver. 15).(3) Again, men are to be greatly respected for their development into immortality. Although there is but very little value in acorns, when they are planted they will become trees; but what they will be when a hundred years have dealt with them no man can tell. And though men, as seeds, are comparatively insignificant, when they shall have been planted again, in a fairer clime and in a better soil, and shall have been under a higher culture, they will then unfold their real and true selves, to which they will not come in their relationship to time and society.
II. IT IS UPON THE GROUND OF THE VALUE THAT INHERES IN MEN THAT WE MUST NOT PUT ANY STUMBLING-BLOCK IN THEIR WAY. It is a case in which the highest are to serve the lowest. It is being to men what mothers are to children. What father is there that does not subdue himself to the level of the cradle? Accomplishments, tastes, and liberties are commanded to serve the wants of the little one. We must use our liberty and our strength for men, not them for our strength and liberty.
1. It is right, if a man is worshipping superstitiously, to supplant the superstition by a more rational worship. If I go into a Catholic church, and there stands the font of sacred water by the door, and I perceive one and another dipping their hands in and making the sign of the cross with the utmost reverence, I do not follow their example; I have no need of it; and yet I should abuse my liberty if I were to ridicule the act, or if I were to use my liberty and my intelligence to oppress the consciences of those that were lower and less than I. To a person who performs the act it may seem sacred; and if you cast contempt upon it you may be a violator of what is sacred to him, and therefore you may put a stumbling-block in his way. Idolaters were not treated with disrespect by Christ and His apostles. When Paul stood in the midst of the radiant idols at Athens he never spoke of them in such a way as to wound the feelings of any one who believed in them.
2. It is sometimes said of men, "They do not preach all that they believe." They would be fools if they did. You might as well say to the mother who has a medicine chest, "Give all the medicine there is in that chest," as to say to a man, "Preach all that you believe." A man preaches to build men up. Are you to reproach a man for not putting all the materials for building into every edifice that he constructs? If a man builds of brick he does not think it necessary to exhaust the whole material that the country affords. And a man that teaches is not teaching for the sake of unsettling men. There are those who pile sermon upon sermon the year round, loosening everything, and at last nothing remains. But it is said, "They are bold men." Yes; and they may do harm with their boldness. "Well, they are honest." Honesty is a good thing; but even that should be handled prudently. It is better that men should have truth than that they should have delusion and falsity; but it is not wise that the change should be made too abruptly. Where a man has on a filthy garment, it is better that he should wear it than that he should go naked. Don't take it from him until you have a better one to put in the place of it.
3. A man has a right, in the employment of his wealth, to have regard for the comfort and refinement of himself and his household. But no man has a right to such a use of wealth as shall be exclusive and selfish. A man has a right to the use of his property, but he must use it charitably. And, on the other hand, those that are poor are not to rail at rich men, but are to act according to the spirit which is contained in the gospel (vers. 2, 3).
4. There are very many pleasures which I avoid, not because I have the slightest conscience respecting the things themselves, or because I suppose they would be otherwise than beneficial to me, but because my example should be such as not to mislead, but lead aright, the young men of the community, who, in looking upon what I did, if I indulged in all those things which were harmless to me, might venture on things that I could do safely, and they could not.
5. This should be carried still further. I hold that there is no one thing that is more perilous to young men than the usages of society in the matter of intoxicating drinks. Nevertheless, if I observe that my brother, in a neighbouring church, holds a contrary view, I have no right of disputation over his conscience. I may wish that he could see as I do; I may even attempt to give him the light that I have; but if, after all, in the exercise of his own judgment and discretion, he says, "I stand in my liberty before God," I have no right to cast an imputation on him and his liberty.
(H. W. Beecher.)
I know..., that there is nothing unclean of itselfI. NOTHING IS UNCLEAN OF ITSELF.
1. Every creature of God is good.
2. May be lawfully used.
3. When sanctified by an enlightened conscience.
II. EVERYTHING BECOMES UNCLEAN.
1. When abused.
2. When used by him that esteems it unclean.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitablyI. THE CASE SUPPOSED. The enjoyment though lawful, is a stumbling-block to another.
II. THE APOSTLE'S DECISION OF IT. It is a violation of the law of love, because selfish in itself, injurious in its effect.
III. THE CONSEQUENT DUTY. Of abstinence, lest you destroy him for whom Christ died, leaving you an example of self-sacrifice.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ diedI. CHRIST DIED TO SAVE ALL. "He is the propitiation... for the sins of the whole world." His death was a fact in the Divine government in which all are interested, a provision of Divine mercy, like the sun, the air, and the various elements of nature, from which all could derive the same supplies.
II. THOUGH HE DIED TO SAVE ALL, SOME WILL BE DESTROYED. The truth has no practical influence on a man unless he studies it, and he may study it or not, rightly or not, the provision does not stream its blessings into a man, irrespective of his choice or efforts. The sun will not give its light to a man unless he open his eyes, nor will the water allay his burning thirst unless he drinks it in. "Ye will not come unto Me," etc.
III. THIS DESTRUCTION MAY BE EFFECTED BY A BROTHER. One man can and often does spiritually ruin another by his suggestions, his spirit, his example. Whilst God saves man by man the devil damns man by man. Through man the spiritually restorative and destructive forces of the universe are everlastingly working.
IV. THE BROTHER MAY DO THIS BY A TRIFLING THING — "meat." By urging thy ceremonial observances thou art likely to ruin him; leave him free to his own conscience. As an invisible atom can destroy animal life, a little sin can damn a soul.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
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